Theme Definition: Health refers to the access and safety of indoor and outdoor environments. This Theme focuses on the physical and mental wellbeing of people through access to clean water, air, and pollution-free environments, safety in outdoor areas, access to green spaces, playgrounds, and recreation centres.

Suggested Sub-Themes: outdoor air quality, indoor air quality, clean drinking water, access to healthy foods, accessibility to the outdoors for seniors, children, and the handicapped, pedestrian-friendly cities, mitigation of natural hazards.

Many actions in cities support sustainable health, including:

  • Programs to keep oil and medications out of waste water systems
  • Street and crossing designs to keep pedestrians safe
  • Parks catering to needs of handicapped children and to seniors

Below, you will find a discussion paper on Health.

A sustainable urban region will have clean air and water for all its residents. People will live in safety and the needs of more vulnerable members of society (children, the elderly and the infirm) will be taken care of. In both urban and rural areas, it will be possible to find places of tranquility that will ease the pressures of daily life.


As residents of Ottawa, we are proud of the healthy environment we enjoy. Yet there may be things we can do to ensure that it stays healthy for ourselves in the future.

As urban dwellers, we may have witnessed the dumping of oil or other chemicals down sewers that will take this pollution to the river. Is there something we can do in our neighbourhoods to help educate everyone about the importance of clean water

Some of us run small businesses and might like to reduce the exhaust emitted by our delivery vehicles. Perhaps of a hybrid vehicle would have a better economic as well as environmental payback. Or perhaps we could reduce the number of vehicles we use.

There maybe an industry in a rural area that seems to be polluting, or there may be one that is an example of stewardship. Perhaps a 4H group, school, guide troop, women’s auxiliary or legion might celebrate good business practices and help to correct problems.

Our farms are certainly contributing to the beauty of the countryside while satisfying our need for food. But are farmers taking care of their own health? Do they leave partly used containers of chemicals in the barn? Do they equip themselves properly to limit their exposure to dangerous products? Do farmers take advantage of all the training courses offered to them to learn how they can protect themselves and the environment while carrying out the business of farming? We all need healthy farms and healthy farmers.


In urban areas, the threat of automobile traffic to pedestrian safety can be reduced through urban design and better public transit. In rural areas, it might require community action to change dangerous stretches of road or to transport young people to recreational facilities. Can we work with others to identify and fill these needs?

Pedestrian-friendly areas of cities may have less crime. Robberies, vandalism and assault tend not to occur where people are out and about enjoying themselves. Also, lines of sight and openness can be important. We may wish to learn about and talk about the developing specialty of crime prevention through environmental design with in neighbours.

Many of us live with dogs Do we ever think of the public safety benefits of dog walking? Whether at dawn or the evening, dogs and their owners are the eyes and ears in our streets and parks. They notice when something strange is going on. Maybe some things haven’t changed that much – 100,000 years ago dogs guarded human’s hunting camps, today they help keep our neighbourhoods safe.

Teenagers can sometimes be the source of various crimes. Can this be addressed through recreation and training projects? Young people need activity that is enjoyable and affordable. They also need to develop skills that will allow them to be creative, feel important and earn an income. A recent example of community action on behalf of teenagers involved a youth centre, which the young people both designed and built. The project coordinator purposely recruited some of the local troublemakers to erect the building, giving them a positive outlet for their extra energy and producing a sense of pride in their accomplishment.

The City of Sao Paula, Brazil has a very interesting environmental program to keep young people out of crime and dead-end jobs in suburban areas (where social problems are greater than in the urban centre). A one-year training program provides accreditation in sustainable forestry or agriculture, food preparation, or the production of art from recycled materials. Perhaps a business association might work with a school board to sponsor a similar program here.

Fire safety in poorer residential neighbourhood may depend on building renewal and education (e.g. teaching people about the importance of smoke detectors). In rural areas the lack of water lines is an issue in fire fighting. The range of protection can be extended through the installation of “dry hydrants” which are non-pressurized suction pipes in lakes and ponds.


We know that insulation and a tight building envelope will reduce winter heating and summer cooling costs for homes or offices. But a well-sealed building also reduces dust infiltration, as well as moisture that could lead to mould and mildew. Not only does this make a building more comfortable, but it also protects health. Look for insulation that does not off-gas noxious chemicals. For some flat roofed buildings, summer insulation might be a layer of soil supporting a garden

What about installing a whole-house fan? Mounted in the attic over a louvered cover, the fan will pull fresh air into the house in the evening, put the warm inside air into the attic and push the oven-hot attic air outside. When we come home from work, all we need to do is open a couple of windows on the cool side of the building, turn on the fan and experience a gentle breeze through the house that feels several degrees cooler than the still air that was there moment earlier. On very warm nights, the fan can be left on at low speed all night and the temperature of the house in the morning is the same temperature as the nightly minimum. And a 24-inch fan that is sufficient for a normal house uses 10% of the electricity of a 3-ton air conditioner and is much cheaper to buy and install as well.


There are always vulnerable people on our neighbourhoods and we need to ensure their safety. Can the needs of different groups be addressed in similar ways? It is clear that children should have open areas to play in that are close to their homes, healthy and safe. Seniors and handicapped persons require similar areas. So if our neighbourhood is planning a park or a green space we can plan it so that our common and individual needs are met?


People often move to villages because they are seeking a sense of tranquility. But if they are driving everywhere, are they finding it? Many towns and villages have enhanced the tranquility of their environments with walking paths and meeting places. Do we have ideas on how to do more of this?

In urban areas, tranquility is enhanced with a more human scale of city design, reductions of traffic and noise, and development of green spaces. Sometimes the only peace a harried office worker or store clerk finds during the day is during lunchtime on a park bench. What are the health benefits of that?

Jim Birtch, 15 October 2009

Photo Credits:
1. Olia Nayda at Unsplash